Dana Tippin Cutler’s (J.D. ’89) Courageous Collaborations: An Excerpt from Res Ipsa

Dana Tippin Cutler and Adam Brown in the Law School Library.

As society continues to transform, lawyers are reassessing whether the legal field is serving its constituents effectively and efficiently. As the new president of The Missouri Bar, Kansas City lawyer Dana Tippin Cutler (J.D. ’89) doesn’t deny the disruptive changes, but she also sees the remarkable opportunities that lie ahead.

Written by Alyssa Baker, an excerpt from the article, “The Courage to Face the Future”

Cutler has been a member of The Missouri Bar’s Board of Governors since 2003 and has planned specific goals she would like to accomplish during her presidency. Cutler hopes to keep moving forward in ensuring The Missouri Bar makes well-informed decisions about changing technology, CLE programming, strategic planning and collaborative efforts.

Cutler has sought to create an environment where people from all walks of life are invited to share their perspectives. She adapted the “Courageous Conversation” program from the innovative partnership between The Dow Chemical Company and The Nature Conservancy to encourage honest conversations about diversity and the future.

If two very different entities could join together, she thought, surely legal professionals could find a way to come together to have an honest dialogue.

“If it’s how that person is feeling and it’s their life experience, we need to hear it, so we can fashion solutions that take that into account,” Cutler says.

After successfully incorporating the idea of “Courageous Collaboration” into her practice with her staff and administration, Cutler then wondered if this idea of Courageous Collaboration could work for lawyers and began an ongoing initiative at The Missouri Bar. As she planned the Collaborations, Cutler kept in mind that the conversations about diversity, unfortunately, weren’t changing.

“To move the ball forward, there have to be some pretty truthful conversations about where we are and how we got there,” she says. “People in our profession are afraid to say what they really feel.”

To sort through their own and others’ feelings during conversation, individuals have to have an understanding of implicit bias, the unintentional judgments that are made based on preconceived notions.

“Implicit bias doesn’t necessarily correlate with how you see yourself,” Cutler says, “but it may be affecting how others see you, because of what you’re doing based on your implicit biases.”

Courageous Collaboration encourages discussion on facing your fears using real-life examples from Cutler’s own experiences. It explores issues facing firms, including women in the law succeeding; addresses the incoming millennial demographic who thrive more on work-life balance than money; and looks into what it means to be authentic in the workplace – whether you are a person of color, in the LGBTQ community or otherwise.

Instead of sparking aggressive conversations that focus on, “This is what you’re doing to me,” a Courageous Collaboration focuses on, “What are we doing to each other and why?”

As Cutler leads the way in her Courageous Collaboration sessions, she revisits the idea of facing one’s fears repeatedly. She is using an old African proverb in her Courageous Collaborations to exemplify why the legal profession cannot run from the unknown or whatever else they may fear.

The proverb comes from the savannah, where lions wait in tall grasses while herds move across the plain. While on the hunt, a pride will often send its weakest male member away from the others. In this case, his roar is bigger than his bite. At the sound of the single lion’s roar, the herd rushes right into the waiting lionesses. If the herd had run toward the roar, they would have escaped their ill fate. The proverb says you should “run to the roar,” where you fear to go, and there you will find safety and a way through the danger.

In the same way, attorneys will need to ground themselves in the changing legal landscape by running toward their fears — whether that be to innovation, to a changing and diverse workplace or to supporting clients in new ways. As the year progresses, Cutler challenges Missouri lawyers to run to the roar.

Read more about Dana Tippin Cuter’s Courageous Collaborations, featuring Adam Brown (J.D. ’10) discussing authenticity in the workplace and he and Nancy Olivares (J.D. ’11) reflecting on why representation matters, in the latest issue of Res Ipsa.

Published: Jul 5, 2017